By a show of hands here, who knows what a rail jam is? I can raise my hand and say “I do!” now, but before my trip to Marquette in February, I would have been sitting with my hands folded in my lap. I’d never even heard of a rail jam, yet I’d been invited to the largest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to attend such an event for the first time.
For those who still may not know what a rail jam is, it is typically a snowboarding event (though at this rail jam, skiers also participated) in which riders perform tricks on creative, man-made features. The venue for Marquette’s first ever Downtown Showdown Rail Jam was the steep end of East Washington Street, which looks as if it slopes down directly into Lake Superior. Before the fun could begin and participants could go zooming down the course, one thing was needed: snow. And lots of it. Trucks hauled mountains of snow from other parts of town and workers labored intensely to pack the street. We stopped by the venue earlier in the day and watched the production in progress. It was interesting to watch the transformation from snow-free, steep street, to a veritable short ski run.
Once the snow was packed and the street was ready, the first participants began lining up at the top of Washington Street for the Open Jam. These groups mainly were youngsters and teenagers – amateurs who wanted a go at the course. From our perch on the balcony at The Waterfront restaurant, we enjoyed the bright sunshine and watched in amazement as skiers and snowboarders skid along rails and glided across the top of a covered boat on their way down. Later that evening, after the sun set, was when the real action began, both outside on the course and inside The Waterfront. We were treated to VIP passes for the event so we got to enjoy food and beverages – and the ability to warm up! – inside. There was a DJ playing fun music and it was a real party atmosphere. The same enthusiasm was felt outside among the spectators who were oohing and ahhing as the competitors zoomed down the street. But, just as the night before, it started to get REALLY cold outside and we were approaching bedtime for a certain toddler.
I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to witness such a fun, exhilarating winter sports event. Marquette may be in the middle of what some condescendingly refer to as “flyover country”, but I’d say the vibe rivals that of any mountain town in the USA.
My family’s trip to Marquette, including VIP passes to the Downtown Showdown Rail Jam, was provided by Marquette County CVB and its partners. All words and opinions, as always, are my own.